“We would not have a successful screening operation if it weren’t for the workforce.”
Those are the words of Stephanie Kenary, TSA deputy assistant federal security director-screening at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), who said, “I take it personally to make sure they feel valued, important and seen as an employee.”
During a Women Excel@TSA Day in the Life leadership event, Supervisory TSA Officer Alina Jones and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) TSA Manager Ilary Hernandez joined Kenary in emphasizing the importance of TSA’s frontline officers and their commitment to their people.
Jones started her TSA career as a screening officer in 2015 and now leads over 40 officers at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). Each day, she ensures there is enough staffing to successfully run the checkpoint, conducts shift briefings, puts her critical thinking skills to the test to mitigate potential security threats, coordinates incident response procedures and generates daily operational reports.
“As the first level of leadership in the screening operations, it’s very important for me to be approachable every day for the officers to express their concerns and problems,” said Jones. “This allows me to provide support and solutions that may benefit them.”
Similar to Jones’ TSA journey, Hernandez worked her way up the ranks to TSA manager at EWR after beginning her career as a part-time TSA officer in 2011 and has 18 years of combined experience at EWR. She is now responsible for screening operations at Newark’s Terminal A, a new $2.7 billion facility.
“My position very much dictates the flow of our operation,” noted Hernandez, who has 16 supervisors and over 100 officers under her guidance at Terminal A. “My decisions have a direct impact on my officers. If I expect and instruct my supervisors to open an X amount of lanes in the checkpoint, I have to own that decision if it impacts my officers’ breaks or lunches.”
“My motto is you own your decision – good, bad or indifferent,” she added. “I believe we can truly advocate for our officers and let them know we’re here for them, because they are the future of our agency.”
Never in a million years did Kenary think she would end up in her current position as the deputy assistant federal security director (DAFSD) at one of the world’s busiest airports, ATL.
“I started TSA after college as a way to kind of get my foot in the door with the government,” Kenary recalled. “But shortly after joining TSA, I noticed all of the amazing opportunities available to us. I was fortunate to take advantage of a lot of those opportunities.”
Kenary has been DAFSD for nearly two years after she, too, moved up the ranks from part-time screening officer in Charlotte, North Carolina. She believes TSA’s people come first in her line of work.
“It’s always been very important to me to build those relationships with the workforce,” she said. “Make sure people feel recognized and seen and ensure they have the tools they need to execute their job every day.”
Every day, Kenary reviews staffing to make sure ATL has plenty of available officers to open checkpoint lanes and ensures her team is prepared for anything that may come their way.
“Flowing information from our managers, supervisors, all the way down to officers, socializing with stakeholders to make sure everyone is on the same page,” said Kenary.
Leaving the Day in the Life leadership event audience with a final thought, Hernandez said TSA’s landscape is changing with the agency’s workforce becoming younger, but she sees great things on the horizon.
“(In the past, TSA) was believed to possibly be a stepping stone into other agencies,” she said. “Now, this agency is very much standing on its own with a lot of growth opportunity. I believe it’s onward and upward for TSA. Everyone doesn’t have to be looking for a way out. They can be looking for the way up.”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs